Book Review: The NHL A Centennial History

The NHL A Centennial History by D'Arcy Jenish
The NHL A Centennial History by D’Arcy Jenish

The NHL: A Centennial History – 100 Years of On-Ice Action & Boardroom Battles. By D’Arcy Jenish. (2013, Toronto: Doubleday Canada. Hardcover. Pp. 415. CAN $34.95 / US $32.95. ISBN 978-0-385-67146-0.)


One hundred years. Ten decades. A century. This span is longer than many of us will ever live. But the organization Canadians and Americans have come to love (and occasionally loathe) is approaching its centennial year. D’Arcy Jenish explores the ins and outs of how the National Hockey League (NHL) became what it is today in his new book, The NHL: A Centennial History.

From a recounting of thousands of hockey games and player statistics to the stories of each individual club, there are many possible ways this history could have been told. Jenish chose the perspective of the league’s inner workings, an approach that meets with success. His storytelling is compelling, which leaves his 415-page tome much less intimidating. The actual text is 385 pages and the additional 16 pages of extensive endnotes and sources are worth continuing to read.

The book is organized into four distinctive parts based on the four men who have served at the NHL’s helm: Frank Calder, Clarence Campbell, John A. Ziegler, Jr., and Gary Bettman. Prior to 1917, the National Hockey Association (NHA) was organized to represent teams battling western Canada for the Stanley Cup. With too much infighting, the 1917 meeting of the NHA had been rescheduled. Calder was serving as the NHA’s secretary-treasurer when talk of reorganizing into a new league began and, therefore, seemed the logical choice to head the new National Hockey League. Calder carried the NHL through its first quarter century. Campbell served for three decades, and the end of his reign also marked the end of Canadian leadership of the NHL. The next two presidents were Americans – Ziegler and Bettman, who both proved to be polarizing figures.

Readers may find the story to be missing certain perspectives. However, this book is not meant to be the definitive history of the NHL. Jenish takes the stories of the machinations fans rarely see: mainly the boardroom, the owners, and the commissioner’s office. He discusses some of the labor negotiations with the NHLPA, but keeps the focus at the affects on and reactions to the players from the league perspective.

Jenish’s source lists are varied and impressive and include archival documents, meeting minutes, reports, league-published documents, books, newspapers and magazines, and interviews. He takes a very balanced approach showing the beauty and the blemishes of a sports league that continues to evolve.

He also gives readers a good lesson that, regardless of how much passion fans have for their favorite sport, hockey is also a business. The business of hockey can be both very lucrative and very expensive, and it takes the combined dedication of the fans, players, owners, and the league to make the NHL what it is today.

Rebecca Dobrinski